‘B’ thankful

JMB: for firsts, for proving that I could marry, for letting me go.

NB: for daily conversation, for taking me back to childhood, for playlists, for the distraction.

DB: for allowing me to say ‘no’ to “nice but boring”, for moving on, for nothing.

JB: for your honesty, for recognizing the lack there of from the beginning, for being a friend.

RB: for introducing me to new addictions, for heat lightning under a blue moon, for temple kisses.

JBB: for holding your own, for your outlook on this past year, for being and choosing you.

Getting Students to Love the Revision Process

Oh no, they didn’t often comes to mind when a rough draft comes through as ‘final draft’. I cannot tell you often I would stress ‘process’ when teaching composition. I used to post notes, send reminders, lecture, assign readings…everything I knew to do to make sure students understood that the rough draft is and should not be the final draft. How did students expect their first and only draft to be their best work?

I have always wanted my students to look forward to the revision process; I wanted them to love to edit. After all, I did. As an adjunct, in early spring 2011, I realized, my students are, for the most part, not me. When I emailed a student about submitting his rough draft as his final draft, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt; it had to be a mistake. When he replied, “Sorry. I did not have time to revise. Do as you will,” I was baffled. Mad, but baffled.

His comment to “do as you will” was not a challenge but an admittance that he was wrong and that he would succumb to whatever decision or mercy I threw his way. While I did give that essay a temporary “0”, I explained to him the importance of revision and editing. It was much more important to me that he take extra time, even though I do not accept late work, and go through the revision process than it was to ‘teach him a lesson’ on deadlines. I know our students have lives outside of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) because I do too; most importantly, I know they have other classes, assignments and responsibilities outside of ENG-111 (Writing and Inquiry).

In my email back to the student, I sent him: 1) my rough draft feedback (forwarded from a previous email), 2) the link for Cengage Learning’s “Resources for Writers” and 3) a list of things to look for while revising/editing his essay. Three days later, I had a polished, final version in my inbox to grade. I smiled the entire time I graded it; he had taken the time and it had paid off. I could not even take off points for it being late; it was too well written and I was too proud that he had found the time.

Before entering ENG-111, it is our hope that students understand and have practiced the revision and editing processes. To instill the processes sooner at RCCC, we have implemented Write Experience into our DRE, Developmental Reading and English, classes. This solution allows our students to digitally revise their writing through revision goals and feedback provided by the program; it is a guided approach to revising and editing, making these steps less threatening and thus more approachable. In ENG-111, instructors teach and reiterate the process of writing. We do so and check this process through assigning and collecting portfolios, where for each essay, students have to provide us with their: planning, brainstorming or free-writing, rough drafts, revisions, editing and final drafts. In a lot of cases though, my students’ rough drafts looked A LOT like their final drafts. In fact, when grading students’ final drafts, I found myself writing things like, “Please refer back to my rough draft feedback”, “Did you read/use my rough draft feedback?”, and finally, “Is this your rough draft?”

I began questioning myself. Did I allow enough time to revise? Do students want the best possible grade on their essays? Was my rough draft feedback clear enough? A student summed it up for me in class one day: “Mrs. B, I hate revising.” I nodded, realizing this was my answer; in the back of my mind though was, Challenge accepted.

Because it is such a struggle to get students to look at, reread and re-evaluate their essays, I had to get serious. I had to make sure that I was giving them enough time to revise; I had to make sure they were receiving valuable feedback and I had to motivate them to want to revise. Even with all of that said and done, I had to make sure they knew how to revise as many would say, “I don’t know how to catch things like that, Mrs. B”. Slowly but surely, I took my students back to the basics.

I first explained to students that it is through revision and editing that their best essays shine through. It is truly through such processes that “B” essays become “A” essays; “C” essays become “B” essays. Revision and editing can also save a grade completely should a student mistakenly use the incorrect format or forget citations for information they used.

I knew that I needed to model revision so I first showed students a rough draft of an essay I wrote in college. I explained that I was not yet looking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, or capitalization (as that will come with editing) but more so to make sure I met the requirements of the assignment, that my thought process was clear and that the overall paper flowed. To model revision and then to have students mimic revision, I had to use and teach them ‘change’ questions, such as: “Does my beginning catch the attention of my readers?”, “Do I have a strong conclusion” and “Do I use the same word over and over (too often)?” It is also important that students practice this outside of their essays to make it more habit (as my swim coach used to say, “Practice makes permanent, not perfect”). Therefore, I use the Resources for Writers’ proofreading practice as in-class activities and homework assignments.

Once the revision step is over, students should then focus on editing (where we look for grammar, spelling and other ‘clean up’ items). Students typically feel more comfortable with this step because it seems more ‘clear cut’ to them. Plus, there are ‘review’ tools in programs such as Microsoft Word that assist them. For editing, my students complete ‘peer editing’; each student has to edit two peers’ essays, using ‘track changes’ in Word, and post those to the discussion board inside of Blackboard. I use Blackboard for this so students can see all edits submitted to assist them in their own writing/editing. Students are also assigned the grammar exercises on Resources for Writers to assist them; the feedback is instant which means they can apply what they learn immediately.

I am positive I have not solved the revision and editing scuffle forever. Students would love to be done with their essay the first time, I know. There are still groans or sluggishness noted when students are asked to look at their essays again, and again. But I have seen improvement. For example, upon writing the fourth and final essay, my ENG-111 student, who earlier did not have time to revise, submitted his final draft on time and in a near perfect version. In his email to me, he wrote, “Definitely got it this time!”

**

Appeared on Cengage Learning’s blog, September 2014

Three

I just told her the other day –

didn’t I?

that I no longer had time to write, that the moments

would just have to “hit me.”

And, there it was, there

he was

flung over the concrete median

blood dripping down his wedding ring finger

onto the holiday-trafficked highway

an inverted car and smoke as his backdrop.

While driving and sobbing to my mom over Bluetooth,

I was reminded of the wreck that brought me

straight home to you, of forgotten errands,

of the dead man, halfway out of a car’s window

of how you greeted me from the garage

and held me on the weight bench

you were sweeping around.

Of the boy, slung –

to the pavement of the intersection,

immediately outside of art class.

From my rearview mirror, the worst part

was watching a father explain

what happened to his small son.

The man rolled his hand over,

palm up.

Temporary.

I saw you that night –

fumbling, trying to locate a place

for the temporary, cartoon, bumble bee tattoo.

You tried the small of your left wrist, the inside

of your arm, the back of your hand.

You peeled the back off carefully –

each time –

expecting it to be there, as a sticker would.

I smiled at your lack of water

and understanding, at your frustration –

looking away in your acknowledgement.

dimples.

After dinner, you roll the toothpick

in the palm of your hand. You flip

it over and under, test the sharp tip,

pick your teeth.

 

 

Finally, with a smile, it settles

in the corner of your cheek.

When I lean in to kiss you, you quickly

take in the toothpick, hiding

it just behind your puckered lips –

just as my dad did

when kissing me goodnight.

 

 

Your dimples, much deeper than his.